Can writers make their own e-book covers? You tell me

Getting a pro to do your e-book cover is a good idea. Like it or not, everyone judges a book by its cover. But I’ve also seen a lot of bad pro or semi-pro covers. Usually, they’re way overdone: too many elements, too much going on.

Now, I had intended to get a pro to design the covers for each of the two collections of short stories that I’m planning to release in the coming weeks. I even had sketches drawn up. Then I came across what struck me as the perfect image for the first collection, so I did a little work on it in Paint.net (which is a free program) and voila!

It needs some touching up, no doubt; but I think it works.

As the title suggests, the four stories are thematically related–they’re all dream stories. Three might fit into the supernatural suspense genre, and one is more of a soft science fiction piece.

I think the cover’s aesthetic fits this theme.  The dark, undulating water and the distorted Moon suggest the unrestrained, unpredictable nature of dreams. Add in the greenish light welling up from the depths and you have an icon of the Dionysian.

I’ll admit that I picked the Gothic Copperplate typeface more because I like it than anything else. Another choice might work better. But all in all, I think it’s a good cover for my particular book.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I did it.

I found the image by chance on my hard drive. I was looking for a profile picture for my website when I came across this distorted picture of Niagara Falls that my wife had taken. It’s the sort of picture you’d normally delete, but it struck me as soon as saw it.

The city lights seemed inappropriate to the theme. The world of dreams is not the real one and city lights invite it in. So I used the “cloning” feature in Paint.net to remove them. Then I added the text. It took a few tries to get it right. I initially forgot that the font had to be large enough to be read as a thumbnail, which is crucial for selling online.

The whole business took about six hours. But five of those were taken with learning Paint.net, which was new to me.

Now, I realize that seeing the wizard behind the curtain spoils the effect a little. Moreover, it was so simple to do that it’s bound to seem amateurish now that you know how I did it. But I decided to open the curtain anyway, because someone of lesser means—who’s nonetheless endowed with creativity—might not be held back from publishing for want of a cover.

Anyway, let me know what you think.

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6 thoughts on “Can writers make their own e-book covers? You tell me

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with doing your own book cover – this looks really good! I like it better without the city lights too, it adds a sense of mystery and remoteness to the picture. Yes, I just made that word up.

  2. In the randomness that is the Internet, I liked your comment on the current post that’s up on the Why Your Book Isn’t Selling blog, clicked the link and wandered on over. Your honesty about killing a dog in the first sentence really amused me.

    Can I be equally honest about your book cover? The image is great but the typography is not. (That’s the toned down version, because the way I said it at first just felt too rude. So imagine that sentence a little stronger than it currently is, but not too much stronger.)

    The font doesn’t say anything — Gothic is just dull. It says staid. Unimaginative. Maybe old-fashioned. I’m not advocating a weird font, but you need to think about how the font relates to the content of the book. Thrillers use heavy fonts a lot, ie thick line lengths, really bold type. Romances use flowing fonts. Science fiction often uses either clean sans serif fonts or square edged-fonts. Gothic Copperplate could be on some science fiction titles, I suppose, but it doesn’t look professional.

    And your line lengths are all off, out of proportion. You’ve started the second line indented, the third line further indented, but then the fourth line is balanced with the third, even though they’re different content. It just looks awkward. And on a thumbnail that block of content at the bottom is going to be a white blur.

    Since I’ve started really looking into self-publishing myself, I’ve looked at a lot of covers and I agree with you that a professional designer isn’t always necessary. I especially agree because some of the covers that people appear to be paying for are really not very good. And also, plenty of mainstream publishers have printed plenty of really bad covers! So I think it’s absolutely possible to design your own cover but it’s not just the artwork that’s important, the font and the placement of the text really matter, too, and (no offense, I hope) yours needs some work.

    I designed my own cover, too, so feel free to come over to my blog and tell me everything that’s wrong with it. 🙂

    http://sarahwynde.blogspot.com/2011/11/cover-design-number-three.html

    1. Thanks for the feedback—seriously, frankness is important. No one is helped by squishy palaver. And yes, you’re probably right that my weakness for Copperplate is bringing me down, like wearing pink to a biker bar.

      I didn’t think the line lengths were so bad. I was trying to balance off the Moon. Are you suggesting I should square off from the edge of the page? I dunno. I guess I’ll be back at the drawing board soon.

      As for covers generally, the biggest problem with pro covers isn’t skill so much as aesthetic sense. Too much crap on the cover overwhelms.

  3. I totally agree about simple covers being better covers. Especially now, when a lot of the time — and always with self-published ebooks — the thumbnail is by far the most important cover. A cluttered thumbnail is a poor sales tool. The most important view of the cover is really what it looks like when it’s small, but too few people are thinking that way, in my opinion.

    As for the line length, what I was talking about wasn’t the lines in relation to the image but the lines in relation to each other. Balance is one of the most important elements in a good design. Not that everything needs to be equal — I’m not talking about balance as being the straight line precision place of a teeter-totter — but that everything needs to be proportioned correctly. Your lines — well, think of them as being like a staircase. You’ve made a staircase with different size steps, which is going to make people stumble. And you’ve used both symmetry (the bottom two lines stacked on top of one another) and asymmetry (the top two lines, stacked unevenly) in the same design. That’s…not good design. Ideally, you want to use one or other other (and most designers choose asymmetry for text because it’s a lot easier to manage, and less restrictive.) Even with asymmetry, though, you want balance: lines should be the same distance apart or proportioned the same way, not just placed randomly.

    If you want to wrap the text around the moon, really wrap it. Make the top line larger, and make the moon balance with the second line, so that the I is next to the moon. Then drop the author name and the 4 short stories part to where you’ve got the white block of unreadable text only a little bit lower (delete the white block of unreadable text, it’s useless anyway). That corner — bottom right — is the most powerful place in a design, because (left to right) readers’ eyes automatically follow a top left to bottom right flow. (Native Japanese do not follow the same flow which is one of the things that makes international design interesting.)

    Hmm, I appear to be doing some serious procrastination on my writing today. I was rewriting someone else’s blurb earlier!

    Anyway, I hope that’s clearer and/or more useful by virtue of being more specific. FYI, I spent a decade as an acquisitions editor at a publisher that specialized in design books, so even though I’m not a designer, my opinion is based on many hours of conversations about covers with professional designers. They were a very different type of book than fiction covers, so it’s not so useful for imagery, but the rules about typography still apply.

    1. Hi Wyndes,

      I wanted to carry through the asymmetry in the image and the theme into the typeface, but it might be too strong—and too strong just looks wrong. Maybe I should center the title and then step off evenly to the right to keep with the line provided by my beloved Moon.

      I also think I have to keep the four stories bit in the title. I want to do as much as possible to avoid being lambasted by reviewers who thought it was a novel in spite of the clear declaration in the product description.

      Believe it or not, I do have a little art history in my background. I think it’s the whole business of placing text over an image that’s throwing me. It just seems unnatural no matter how I do it.

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